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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 March 2019

Israel arrests dozens of Palestinians in response to West Bank shooting

Clashes broke out as security forces cordoned off Ramallah after attacker killed two soldiers

A Palestinian demonstrator throws a tear gas canister back at Israeli soldiers during clashes in Ramallah on December 13, 2018. AFP
A Palestinian demonstrator throws a tear gas canister back at Israeli soldiers during clashes in Ramallah on December 13, 2018. AFP

Israeli forces arrested 40 Palestinians across the occupied West Bank overnight during a search for an attacker who shot dead two Israeli soldiers on Thursday.

The army announced reinforcements after the attack and carried out raids in the nearby city of Ramallah, where Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas is based, and other places.

Clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces erupted in different parts of the West Bank, including inside Ramallah during army raids.

"Forces apprehended 40 suspects wanted for their involvement in terror activities, popular terror and violent riots targeting civilians and security forces," an army statement said.

It said 37 of them were known to be members of Hamas, the Palestinian group that rules the Gaza Strip and claimed two previous gun attacks on Israelis.

Thursday's attack near the Jewish settlement of Ofra came hours after security forces killed two Palestinians wanted for killing Israelis. The gunman got out of his car and opened fire on soldiers and others, killing two and seriously injuring another two Israelis before fleeing.

The shooting was the latest incident shattering months of relative calm in the West Bank, where 400,000 Israelis live alongside more than 2.5 million Palestinians in settlements that are considered illegal by most of the international community.

It was the third deadly attack by Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank in two months and set off demonstrations by settler groups against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose right-wing coalition government has only a one-seat majority in parliament and relies on the support of pro-settler parties.

Settlers shouting for revenge threw stones at Palestinian vehicles, while an Arab bus driver was beaten by ultra-Orthodox Jews in Modiin Illit settlement, according to Israeli media reports.

Right-wing protesters in Jerusalem booed Mr Netanyahu on Thursday, while an MP from the far-right Jewish Home party urged him to close all West Bank roads to Palestinians or have "blood on his hands".

On Thursday, Hamas claimed responsibility for two previous shooting attacks that killed three Israelis, including a baby that died after being born prematurely when its mother was injured in an attack near Ofra on Sunday.

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Hamas leader Ismail Haniya said Thursday that the West Bank had "opened a new page" in the movement's conflict with the Jewish state.

Hugh Lovatt, an analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the situation was reminiscent to the build-up to the 2014 Gaza war.

"What adds further danger is that we are heading into elections in Israel in 2019, so Netanyahu will have to take a more forceful hand," Mr Lovatt said.

"He has long run on his security credentials, saying he keeps Israel safe, and his only real challenge comes from the right."

Mr Netanyahu, whose Likud bloc heads the government, responded Thursday by announcing new measures to support settlements, but Yediot Aharonot newspaper said he would need to respond forcefully.

"When the settler lobby raises an outcry, the Likud ministers break into a sweat," it said.

Updated: December 14, 2018 03:31 PM

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